Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Religion, Emotion, Community

This may be obvious to some, but I've been thinking how being religious is essentially being emotionally-driven.  At least that's what it means to me.  When I think about the time of my life when I was most religious, I was on an ongoing emotional ride.  I don't mean that I was moody, but rather that I saw the world through a series of feelings.  I interpreted everything around me according to how it made me feel. Actually, I think I still do, in general.

What's changed is the feelings that now arise when it comes to religious topics are no longer what they used to be.  They're not passionate, mysterious, encouraging, even interesting or interested feelings.  Overall, religion stirs in me a feeling of ambivalence.  There are aspects of religion that actually make me feel slightly disappointed, repulsed even.

And yet, I know I still have it in me to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, beauty, enormity, peace, joy around religion.  It has to be a particular scenario.  It looks like this.

I'm alone, and it's quiet.  I'm surrounded by beauty - either of nature (which I hardly think I need to explain), or traditional church art: stained glass letting the sun's rays sparkle as they sneak in.  Statues of figures expressing their own emotions, of piety, wisdom, compassion, sorrow, peace.

Given enough time alone with my thoughts, I'm able to allow my surroundings to penetrate past the outer layer of my earthly identity, and resonate deep inside, reminding me of my spiritual self.  I feel - yes, feel - a part of something bigger, something that isn't limited by religious explanations or human labels.  I'm reassured of life being something far beyond mere earthly existence.  It's vague, yes, but familiar and certain.

Religion, the religion of my upbringing, is likewise familiar, but neither vague nor certain.  Organized religion is very specific as to how the world around us ought to be explained, and how each of us ought to live our lives.  And yet, there is only flimsy evidence, at best, to support any of their claims.  It's the familiarity that keeps me coming back.  It's the link I have to my personal spirituality.

The two used to go hand in hand so well.  At first, because I was ignorant of what the Church actually taught, so I was free to run with whatever interpretation happened to occur to me.  Also, because I was surrounded by family who likewise had their own interpretations, and those are the ones I went with. Finally, because I was convinced of the Church's own explanations and fully believed what was taught.

Over time, I lost a sense of community I didn't even realize I had.  I no longer believed what the Church taught, so I was at odds with other church members.  And I didn't maintain relationships with relatives nor form new ones with others who had similar views.  It's hard to find people with my same views on spiritual matters because they are so eclectic.  (That's why Alex and I get along so well.)

So here I am, with no religious or spiritual community in spite of regular church attendance.  And no personal spiritual practice that I blame on the business of motherhood.  And all that's left is complaints and guesses as to when exactly my exodus from the faith began, and if there's any hope of ever returning.

I don't care about being "right" or even knowing "truth", which so many religions claim to provide, but which I don't believe can be explained, only experienced.  I only miss the emotions that gave me a consistent spiritual high from my religiosity.

Pious people will say this is the wrong reason to seek religion.  That one shouldn't expect religion to make us feel good.  These are the people who believe their religion is "the truth", so we can't really find common ground.

Secular folks will tell me to find fulfillment in other areas of my life.  But this is dismissive of the very real grief that I feel for having lost something that was once very dear to me.  I don't expect them to understand, either.

There's probably others like me who just muddle through, keeping their disappointments - in themselves, circumstances, their religion, or all three - to themselves.  They put on a happy face, pretend that nothing has changed, and just find other passions to occupy the empty space inside that was once fulfilled by their faith.

I find it hard to believe that that's the best I can do.  That that's what God wants for my life.  Yes, that's right, just because I'm not religious doesn't mean I don't believe in God.  I most certainly do.  I do not know the nature of God, other than that God is creative and awe-inspiring and eternal.  I don't know if God is personal, in that I can talk to Him or that He has a personalized interest in my life.  I used to believe this, but I just don't know anymore.

Perhaps the problem really is just with having to reset my expectations.  Religion has always been a big part of my life in one way or another.  I turned to it for comfort and explanations and community.  Maybe I just need to find these elsewhere in order to be satisfied with the diminished role that religion now plays in my life.  I may need to split these up - comfort from one thing, explanations from elsewhere, community somewhere unrelated to either one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birth Options Ambivalence

Feeling majorly blah.  About this pregnancy and the inevitable birth options.  About my plateaued spiritual life.  About life in general, really.  But here I want to focus on the birth options aspect.

My daughter was born at home.  It was a planned homebirth, and all things considering, it went well. 13 hours of early labor that really was nothing to write home about, and I see zero reason for having any need to be in a hospital during that time.  Five hours of active labor which commenced with my waters breaking, and the first two of them spent alone, as Alex was stuck in traffic coming home from work.  He had to make the hour and a half commute because our daughter came two weeks early, and he had to tie up loose ends to start his family leave earlier than expected.  By the time midwife and birth assistant arrived, I was in the zone, butt naked without a care in the world.  I've never felt so in the moment as I did during labor.  Neither the past nor the future existed for those several hours. I pushed for a mere 15 minutes, and voila!

However, our birth tub never got filled, I didn't really utilize the hypno babies techniques because I felt confused as to what I was supposed to do when on D-day.  Hypnosis and water were the two comfort measures I was counting on, so it sucked not having either.  I needed several interventions after delivery (stitches, IV, pitocin to stop blood loss).  Our nursing relationship was off to a rough start from the word go, taking nearly three months to finally regulate.  And I suffered postpartum anxiety (probably depression too) for over six months.  I didn't hold my daughter skin-to-skin immediately after birth because she was wrapped in a blanket, probably bc we wanted to discover the baby's sex on our own.  I took meticulous notes of sleep, diaper changes, and nursings, and I didn't put Maya to the breast until a full hour after birth, right around the time we found out we had a girl.

Then I felt drained and sleep deprived, as I suppose is to be expected, wearing disposable underwear to soak up my lochia (sexy, I know), and had to drag my tiny, under 6 pounds baby in what looked like an abnormally humongous car seat to the pediatrician three days post birth, which felt sort of counterproductive to having gone through all the trouble of having her at home.

We waited to tell people to avoid having masses of visitors when we were trying to bond, which proved to be sort of unnecessary and backfired a bit with some people.

All in all, I planned the birth I thought I wanted if it was going to be the only such experience I would have, which I didn't know would not be the case until recently.  I made decisions based on the ideals I read about - much like I generally do in other areas of my life.  I wanted to avoid a hospital bc I didn't think I could advocate for myself as a first time mom, shy to start, against hospital bullies.  And considering the hospital that we were closest to, that was probably a pretty spot-on consideration.

But birthing at home meant a lot more responsibility shouldered by us, from arrangements, to purchase of supplies, to clean up.

To be fair, I have nothing to compare my experience to, but trying to be objective, I'd probably give it a B+.  Apparently, shortly after birth, I had two conversations, with Alex and my mom, stating that I felt I've accomplished what I wanted - I could say I had a homebirth, and that should there be another baby, I don't feel as strongly about it anymore.

And that brings us to today.  I'm pregnant a second time, and I'm having to realize that I cannot - nor should I - try to do everything the same way I did with my daughter.  The siblings will be two separate individuals, with different needs etc.

But I don't have a great alternative in mind.  I mainly feel disappointed that I didn't use hydrotherapy or hypnotherapy during my first birth, and I wonder if it really would've made a difference.  I'd like the opportunity to find out, and I'm trying to decide if another homebirth is the best scenario to do so. I sort of know what to expect, we have better circumstances that should allow us to prevent some of the pitfalls of our first experience.  It's not so much that our homebirth was such an amazing experience.  It wasn't.  It's just that I'm concerned about the policies of the hospital being imposed on me, my baby, my family, my birthing time.

I'm concerned that in spite of agreement to the opposite, my birth plan will be ignored.
That I will be put on the clock from the moment I show up, and that my labor will stall due to unnecessary interventions such as fetal monitoring, IV, or just the stress of being in a strange environment.
That I will be told what I can and cannot eat or drink.  (Granted, I had no desire to eat during active labor, but it was amazing to have graham crackers with nutella as my first mom meal, courtesy Alex.)
That I will inadvertently feel pressured to deliver on someone else's schedule.
That I will be encouraged to get an epidural.
That I will be discouraged from freely moving about and assuming various positions.
That I will be separated from my husband or my baby at any time.
That I will be rushed to let my baby go through routine checks so they can check me off their list, instead of letting us bond immediately afterwards.
That I will be put in a situation where I will have to deliver my baby in a way I don't want to - outside the tub, or worse, on my back.
That I will be yelled at to push.  I actually want to try not to push at all this time around!
That I won't be allowed to leave with the placenta. Therefore I won't be able to get it encapsulated, something I hope will help keep ppd/a at bay this time around.

Ok, so really, I don't really see the appeal of going to the hospital to deliver my baby.  I'm just thinking I want it to go differently than the first time.  But that can and will happen with another homebirth.  We have debriefed, we know what went "wrong" and what can be done differently this time around.  Weather I deliver at home or in the hospital, neither choice is the "easy" way.  Either way, I still have to "go through it".

I should count my blessings that I have the full support of my husband, and that I have a dedicated person (my sister in law) willing to come up to watch Maya so that I don't have to worry about her and she can still be nearby, arbitrary policies be darned.

So my conclusion is that switching to the hospital may seem like a quick fix, but in reality it would be a disaster to opt for that option barring any real medical reason.  I already know how it can go, and even if it's not ideal or the way other women have described their experiences, it wouldn't be so bad if my other birth experience were as good as the first.  Even if not better.

Ok, so what remains is to make the commitment to the midwives from before, which includes $300 out of pocket, always a good incentive for me ;)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How to Grow Up

For years I have reflected on not feeling like an adult, mulling over theories as to why that was. Sheltered upbringing, shy disposition, internalized negative views about myself.  Now that I am in my late (argh!) 30s, I know what I need to do to shake this nonesense once and for all.  Basically, I cannot care what others - my mother in particular - think of me.  I cannot go through life trying to please someone else.

It doesn't matter if my mom approves of what I eat, how I raise my daughter, or who my friends are.  It doesn't matter what she thinks about my decisions or preferences.  She has her own opinion, but I have mine, which is equally valid.  I am not her.  If she takes it personally that I make different decisions from ones she would make, that is frankly not my problem.

Of course I hate to see my mom upset or disappointed, but I cannot keep thinking that these reactions can in any way be mitigated by me.  I do not control her - and she does not control me.  I say this, I believe it, now I wonder how long it will take before I internalize it and start living as though I'm my own person, regardless if I have my mom's approval or not.  Her approval doesn't make my decisions ok.  My decisions need to be ok on their own.  Only I am responsible for my decisions, whether she likes them or not.

It's going to be hard to try to overhaul 30+ years of trying to please my mom though. Still, it's the only way to go forward.